The Contents of My Bag

I thought it might be fun to write a post about the contents of my laptop bag, which I carry everywhere with me. I mentioned in a previous post that I have gone away from being a gadget freak to the kind of guy who carefully researches his gadgets and carries around a select set of well-worn gadgets. I’m not all old-fashioned, though, as you will see. Here are the contents of my bag, in no particular order, along with why I think these are the gadgets I would carry around. A picture of the bag is shown below. It weighs in at 14.5 pounds with all this stuff below in it, plus some of the extra miscellaneous papers I happen to have in it today.

Laptop: IBM T60p, configured with 1600×1200 display, Verizon EVDO, Core Duo 2 GHz, 2 GB memory, and 100 GB hard drive. The base model number is 2623-DDU. It looks like Lenovo doesn’t offer this anymore on their main website, but many of their sub-distributors still carry it in stock.

This is of course the most important thing in the bag, and I literally spend 90% of my waking life behind this laptop in one form or the other. It is sufficiently powerful that I do all my design work on it–the chumby was 100% designed on this beast–and I also play my games on it (WoW runs great on it). It has built-in EVDO, which means I get broadband (0.5-1.5 Mbit) connectivity in every major city in the US (and yes, you can do Skype video conferencing and WoW over EVDO!), so I’m never looking for a WiFi hotspot. It has a fingerprint scanner that I don’t really use for security, but more for convenience. Needless to say, all my data is stored on encrypted partitions and I am pretty good about backing this thing up to my Buffalo Terastation Pro 1TB…also, Norton Ghost is a great tool, I’ve recovered from more than one hard drive crash with it and didn’t miss a beat…and I also rotate USB hard drives with full images of my critical data to a safe deposit box in a geographically diverse location. It makes me nervous to have all my beans in one location.

When I’m at home, I drop my laptop into the Thinkpad mini-dock, and use dual 21″ flat panel monitors at 1600×1200 resolution, along with a Kinesis contoured keyboard for comfortable typing. An interesting point is that a combination of the contoured keyboard, dvorak layout, and swapping backspace, space, delete, control, and caps, means that virtually nobody can walk up to my machine and use it except for me. I’m left-handed so my backspace and space usage is swapped, and I’m an emacs user so control and caps are swapped, as well as delete and escape.

I guess one big advantage of using a laptop as your main machine (especially one with EVDO) is that you never have to rely on a UPS again…I can work straight through a blackout. The battery life when I have both the primary and the secondary batteries installed is around 4-5 hours when I’m doing light design work–good enough for a transcontinental flight.

Laptop AC Adapter: Combo AC/DC adapter

This may seem like an obvious thing to have, but this particular model is worthy of note. It has both a cigarette lighter DC plug and a two-prong AC plug–so I don’t have to lug around two adapters, and I never forget the right adapter when I leave home in a hurry. I also found, to my pleasant surprise on the way back from Taiwan one day, that the DC plug comes off and reveals a secondary plug that is compatible with the weird “EmPower” DC power plug that you find in some airplanes. Someone was using their noggin when they designed this one…

Cell Phone: Blackberry 8700c

First and foremost, a phone should be a phone. That is exactly the reason why I use the Blackberry. Unlike my Treo-weilding and PPC 6700-weilding brethren, I can brag that my phone never crashes! Imagine, never missing a call or a voice mail because your phone locked up and you didn’t know it. I have only seen the Blackberry “shudder” once–the browser crashed–but a watchdog timer in the Blackberry kicked in and booted the process. Amazing. It also has good phone book backup capabilities (I’ve had to rely on this once, unfortunately), plus the browser is finally full-featured enough to visit java-script enabled pages, such as my webmail account…which of course supplements the excellent push-based mail service from RIM that’s linked to the corporate mail account. And my battery lasts a whole day, unlike the PPC 6700. I always leave a USB host to USB-OTG cable in my bag so I can charge my phone on the go from my laptop. Sure, the phone doesn’t have ie…but wait, isn’t that a feature? And there are those who complain that it doesn’t have a camera…enter the next item in my bag…

Camera: Sony T-9

I don’t like the cameras on camera phones. Half the time the pictures don’t come out, and the other half the time when they do come out you wish you had a better version that wasn’t grainy or distorted. This is why I always carry around the T-9. It is super-slim–it’s smaller than my wallet–and it takes photo print-quality pictures. I have a 1 GB memory stick in it, which holds a long vacation’s worth of pictures, or about 45 minutes of video. The battery life is also insane. I’ve taken it on two-week vacations and never had to replace the battery once. I’ll usually tote my cell phone in my pocket and the camera in my shoulderbag, although I’ll drop the camera in a pocket as well when I want to leave the bag at home or the hotel room.

I always carry the camera USB cable with me so I can get pictures off the camera at any time. I rarely carry the battery charger, though–that usually goes in the rollaboard.

I happen to have a salient example for a time when a full-featured digital camera with 3.0x optical zoom comes in handy. I was at a business meeting the other day and Bruce Willis happened to be outside on the street getting an honor. The guys with camera phones could never have gotten this shot…I’m not really into the paparazzi thing, but this was definitely an example of preparedness meeting opportunity. My girlfriend was thrilled to get photos of Ashton Kutcher, Ben Affleck, Demi Moore, etc. etc. that I happened to grab at this opportunity.

Music Player: Ipod Nano, black.

Not much to say here. It’s a great MP3 player and the market numbers reflect that. I have the engraving on the back because it seems like everyone has a black iPod nano and it’s easy to get yours confused with your friends’. I always keep the USB charging cable in the bag as well, as well as the jogging strap. The MP3 player is an important supplement to the laptop because you just don’t want to waste precious laptop battery time just listening to music, and you definitely wouldn’t want to take your laptop for a jog!

Headphones: Etymotic ER-4 MicroPro

I have friends who tote around Bose and Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones. The disadvantage? They need power, and they are big. The Etymotic headphones are noise-blocking from their very design, so if you can handle sticking things in your ears (I have no problem with this, but some people find it uncomfortable), they are the perfect thing to keep in your bag at all times. Crying baby on the plane next to you? pop these things in and the world just disappears. The only disadvantage is that during the plane descent your ears will feel a little uncomfortable…but then again, I’m not supposed to be listening to music when the plane is landing.

Oh, added benefit. The carry case that the earbuds come in? They fit an iPod Nano perfectly. So my Nano isn’t scratched up.

Watch: Laks Memory Date USB2.0

Okay, so this isn’t really in my bag, but it’s on me at all times, along with my class ring from MIT (which doubles as a bottle opener!…which is why I still wear it (video of it in action)…totally the most useful thing I got out of the school) and my toe ring. I have the 512 MB version. Whenever I have a big presentation coming up, I always copy the presentation onto the watch (a friend of mine once said, “never trust a presentation to any mechanical storage device”). I figure I could lose my laptop and the shirt on my back but I could still give the presentation, albeit somewhat naked and embarassed (maybe I’d fashion a toga out of a tablecloth before getting on stage). Thankfully, I haven’t been in this scenario yet but I figure the day I am I’ll be so glad I have this habit.

Travel Mouse: Targus Notebook Retractable Laser Mouse

I always use a mouse…when I don’t, I use the trackpoint, not the trackpad…the Targus laser mouse is the only mouse I’ve found that works on almost every surface imaginable, including the tray tables on an airplane, the shiny marble tables in coffeeshops, and even bare skin or the denim covering my legs when in a pinch.

Ethernet cable: No-tangle self-reeling cable scored as a free trade-show promotion

The best things are sometimes free. I was given this at a tradeshow (DAC, I think) one year by Silicon Dimensions and it never left my bag. It’s a self-reeling ethernet cable, and it’s great for when I can get a plug-in LAN connection.

Skype video camera: Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks

You can imagine that given my spread so far, I do a lot of travel. This can be hard on your loved ones. Enter the Quickcam for Notebooks. Both my girlfriend and my parents have Skype video, so no matter where I am I can say hi to them and show them around my hotel room or show them the neat stuff I picked up in some random city. It’s a great way to be close to the ones you love even when you are on the other side of the world. I remembered when video phones first came out, and I thought they were crazy–why would you want to see someone, talking is enough?–but now I’m a convert. There is so much more depth of interaction and expression with a loved one when you can see the expressions on their face. You catch subtleties that you might miss on a simple phone call or email. And keeping the people I love happy is worth the world to me, so this has been a great addition to my bag.

Not to say that it’s not without flaws–I really dislike the software package that comes with the Logitech cameras. It’s always trying to reboot your computer and it installs way too many wizards and helper programs. I want a camera to just get out of the way and let me do what I want, and not take over my machine every time I use it. Still, despite its flaws, it has clear value from a total quality of life standpoint.

The bag itself: Coach messenger bag

I got this bag many, many years ago (almost a decade now…) as a gift from a now ex-girlfriend, so I can’t find a link to it on-line. I’ve been through many laptop bags since, and every single one has broken and I’ve had to come back to this one. So, even though this bag is quite expensive, if I totalled what I spent on the other bags, it’s probably much more than what this one bag costs. I’m very rough on my bags and this one has pretty much held up to the worst possible treatment; I’m quite happy with its durability. It could use some more pouches and features, but maybe that’s a good thing–it forces me to pare down what I carry around so it’s not so hard on my back. The only drawback of my current bag that I see, and I only recently discovered this, is that it has no hand-carry handle–so when you are wearing a suit (me? in a suit?!) you end up looking lopsided because it pulls at the jacket.

Thankfully, suit-wearing isn’t a common problem for me.

Odds and ends:

Some other things I always carry around with me include a 3-way two-prong power splitter (you can buy them in Japan, but not in the US–I suspect they don’t sell them here because they wouldn’t pass safety standards since they are missing the third prong), incredibly useful while travelling. It will both adapt 3-prong to 2-prong (perfect for travel to Japan) and give you multi-way power. I also carry around a European mainland-to-two prong adapter at all times. It’s small and the few times I really needed it I was so glad I had it.

Another thing I always keep in the bag is a Sharpie permanent marker. It’s amazing how often you really need a pen that can permanently mark on almost any surface but you just can’t find one. Ballpoints and pencils are pretty easy to borrow, but Sharpies are rare. It’s great for labelling all kinds of things–boxes, media (CDs/DVDs–I always pack some blank ones on long trips to trade photos and data), luggage.

I keep a microfiber wipe cloth in my bag as well. Being a guy who wears glasses, this is the best way to keep your glasses clean and scratch-free. It also has the advantage of doubling as a good way to wipe down your laptop screen when the dust that accumulates on it makes it hard to read in the daylight.

I used to always keep a set of lockpicks and a small set of screwdrivers in my bag, but ever since 9/11 I haven’t been able to carry those items around. Bump Keys are a good stand-by as airport-friendly picks but it turns out that in practice they aren’t that useful, plus I’m not as experienced with bump keys as I am with my picks. I use the picks when I lock myself out, and depending on where I’m staying the bump keys often times don’t fit or work, and a full set of bump keys is a drag to carry around everywhere.

Something that’s noticeably missing from the list is a Bluetooth headset, like the Jabra. I used to use a Jabra, it was pretty good in terms of voice quality…but the UI was terrible. You never knew if a call was going to pick up on the Jabra or the phone itself, and Bluetooth itself has security problems that I’d rather not expose my phone to. Thankfully, my Blackberry 8700c has a very good speakerphone that lets me go hands-free in my car, with the only disadvantage being that everyone can overhear my conversation. Then again, I try very hard to be discrete when using my phone in public places…most people don’t realize that you don’t have to holler into a cell phone for it to pick up your voice. I’d love to take the yellers to Japan where it seems like everyone almost whispers into their phone…maybe cell phone companies should give a mandatory course on how to talk into a cell phone at the right volume whenever they sign a new customer up.

Hmm…business cards, of course…and a couple spare $1’s for tips and a $20 snuckered away in a secret compartment to get me by in a pinch.

An oddity that I have in my bag that I just discovered is a 512 MB compact Flash card in a PCMCIA adapter. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to use that…

I also don’t carry around a flashlight…my Blackberry’s LCD backlight doubles as a weak flashlight when I really need to squeak by.

Wish list: Some things I wish existed but as far as I know don’t…

I’d love to have a Kit-Kat candy-bar sized thermal printer that connects to my computer via USB (why not Bluetooth? because I don’t want to carry around a charger. USB means no batteries necessary). What would I use this for, you ask? To print my boarding passes from on-line check-in. With EVDO, I can access the network from anywhere, so the next step is to print my boarding pass. Man, that would be cool–I can print my boarding pass on the rental car return shuttle and just walk up to the gate. I would also use this to print short directions and maps to show to taxi cab drivers, especially in Asian countries where my written Chinese is poor and you really need a map to tell a cab where you are going. Maybe I could even print fedex shipping labels, so if I’m travelling and I have to just drop a box in a fedex drop box, I can just go on-line, print the label, drop it off and run. I suppose if nobody makes one of these, I’ll make one for myself someday…for what it’s worth, I used to carry around a portable ink jet printer, but ink jet printers really do not do well at airplane altitudes. The cartridges get messy. A thermal printer, like the ones they use in grocery store receipt printers, or even–hey–airline ticketting stations, would be fine. I’m okay with the paper roll being tiny, maybe being able to print only four or five linear feet of paper before being replaced. That’s about all I ever need on one trip.

This isn’t as important, but it would be nice someday to have a business card scanner that fits in my PCMCIA slot. I don’t use my PCMCIA slot on my laptop, yet it is there. Maybe something that I can shove a business card into, pull it out, and capture it as a JPEG would be great. OCR would be a bonus (but be sure to offer JPEG as a backup–remember, business happens in Asia too!), and the only thing I’d really care for it to integrate with is my Blackberry. I never use desktop contact software, because it’s all in my phone. Man, that’d be rad…business card to Blackberry phonebook, in a snap.

This is also pretty silly, but I’d love it if my laptop bag had a spot to hold my brush, a change of underwear and shirt, my toothbrush, and some TSA-approved liquid/gel container. Then I’d have a complete overnight kit in one spot.

27 Responses to “The Contents of My Bag”

  1. Will says:

    Do you run linux, windows, both ?

    I’ve gotten quite sad these days because I only found out how much my neck hurts when working on a laptop after I bought one.. :P

  2. Will says:

    Also: did you get the 15″ or 14.1″ version?
    How long does the battery lasts?

  3. bunnie says:

    It’s the 15″ version. Since I do mostly hardware development, and my hardware dev tools are windows based (e.g., Altium DXP, orcad, solidworks, xilinx tools), I primary boot windows, and then use a VMware session to run a Kubuntu linux, where I do all the chumby Linux driver and kernel development. It works out pretty well actually…

    With just the larger battery (I think it’s the 9-cell battery?) it will run maybe 3 hours, give or take. If I throttle it way back and just do text editting I can get 4+ hours; if I play video games, maybe 2.

    Get the warranty…the accessories are not the most robust items on this computer. I’ve already had to return a number of items for exchange…but that’s probably part of being an early adopter on a relatively new platform.

  4. erich says:

    SiPix makes an A6 “Portable Thermal Pocket Printer”, its about 6″x4″, battery powered, however, its connects via rs232 or irda.

  5. Maik says:

    Why do you use AltiumDXP and OrCad? I don’t really see the difference between those two.

  6. bunnie says:

    I use Altium DXP primarily; I use OrCad mostly for compatibilty reasons and sometimes to interface to a version of HSPICE for analog simulations.

  7. Lee says:

    Oh no, you have put ideas into my head.
    A small thermal USB printer is a brillient idea. I want one (I used to design printers).
    And the pcmcia business card scanner is a good idea.
    I’ll add them to the list of ‘things to do’

  8. dave says:

    This is more just an english question…

    When bunnie says, “…I got this bag many, many years ago (almost a decade now…) as a gift from a now ex-girlfriend, so…”

    Is, the ‘now’ in “now ex-girlfriend” really needed? Wouldnt just ‘ex-girlfriend’ be enough??? Ive tried, re-reading the sentence without the now and it worked! Plus, as a bonus, I saved .3 seconds!!!

  9. Oren Beck says:

    I found that FUNCTION redundancy in travel planning has saved my bacon more than any other guideline. That’s to say- PDAphone that duplicates in memory all trip documents.

  10. Oren Beck says:

    It depends on how independent of the hotel’s support one needs to be.

    Most semi-reputable hotels have a fax and free local calls- fax to the hotel- maybe pay a few $ and even if it’s not presentation grade it’s still print. Classier hotels often have office areas for guests.

    Cheap fleabags however may not even have clock radios or wakeup calls.
    Chumby as travel aide?

    As for the cardscanner- I’ve had a QuicklinkII pen scanner with
    IR for many years and the clunky factor is way outweighed by device footprint and cost. The rest of my travel hacks may be boringly mundane.

    Except my feeling dutybound to share the “UPS my Bags” hack where you have several sets of generic travel kits-clothes etc , that get shipped AHEAD to your next stop And tracking #s monitored by a trusted aide “wife is best” To send a backup if one goes astray. Then on checkout , you ship dirty laundry, trinkets picked up en route, and finished books etc back home.

    Cost of shipping,bribing wife etc to assist+cost of duplcations in clothes, suitcases etc can be many fractions cheaper than hassle cost and lost bags, not to mention checked baggage related cruft being eliminated!

  11. Jon says:

    I used to carry around a simple set of lockpicks as well, but since 911 it’s impossible.

    I’d love a ‘stealth’ set of picks — something that masquerades as an eyeglass repair kit or even a pair of glasses or something. Anybody have any ideas?

  12. Karma50 says:

    It took you an entire 3 seconds to read the word “now”?!

    That last sentence must have taken you like a minute and a half!

    Plus, doesn’t “now” clarify it was his current girlfriend at the time and not a gift from an ex-girlfriend that he still keeps in contact with after the break-up?

    Wow! I am really bored!

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